Director: Michael Bay
Studio: De Line Pictures
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Ed Harris
The true-life tale of three dimwitted, sociopathic 1990s Miami gym rats who turned kidnappers, embezzlers and murderers might have made a hell of a movie for directors with the style and sensibility of, say, Danny Boyle or Joel and Ethan Coen.
Michael Bay got hold of the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (based on a series of Pete Collins articles), and the end product is easily his best movie. But it’s still a Michael Bay movie. Mark Wahlberg plays lunkhead gym trainer and hustler Daniel Lugo, a narcissistic self-help addict and movie fan who somehow believes that the rotten fruits of the American Dream should be dropped in his lap.
With the city’s glitz, strippers, flash, ’roids, McMansions and tackiness just beyond his grubby grasp, he wants it so badly he can taste it. Bay has it both ways, celebrating the trash while he’s satirizing it. Wahlberg hatches a plan to kidnap and extort a rich, repulsive client (Tony Shalhoub), and he’s joined by Anthony Mackie as his fellow trainer and complacent pal Adrian Doorbal and, in the performance of the movie, Dwayne Johnson as a coked-up, hot-wired ex-con Bible thumper with an unexpected underbelly of complexity and sweet innocence. They’re like the Three Stooges, only with chainsaws. Whatever could go wrong with the caper does, and the noisy, oversaturated, overstimulated movie, which is often very funny, becomes progressively more brutal, bloody and outrageous.
Amid a visual and aural assault that eventually exhausts and deadens the audience is a barrage of misogyny and homophobia along with such delights as a human head being mashed by a van’s tires, a victim’s head getting pulped by a dropped weight, penile injections, a torture scene worthy of Zero Dark Thirty, a severed body part getting fed to a pet Chihuahua and so on and so on and so on. It’s tonally damaging, let alone stomach-churning. As usual for a Bay movie, this thing is neon lit, sumptuous and dizzying. It’s the rot underneath you’ll take home with you, though. As an early candidate for the guy's movie of the year, Pain & Gain is a protein shake full of arsenic.